What’s an integration platform? Guide to iPaaS solutions for Associations.
An integration platform as a service, or iPaaS for short, connects your digital ecosystem to ensure your different tools talk to each other.
Ok, but why should you care that your software is connected? Let’s look at an example.
In any association, multiple departments work together. You have member support, marketing, events, finance, technical staff, and senior leadership. Each member of the team has a different focus. If you have a traditional AMS, you might have a module that tries to satisfy each person’s needs. With the technology available today, your staff will increasingly find that these modules don’t stack up against best-in-class software. They might start branching out and using different, disconnected tools.
Now, staff are using eight or more different apps. But, if these tools don’t talk to each other, you’ll have a problem on your hands. There is no single source of truth. A member might update their address in the event platform, but that change doesn’t get to your member database. Or, you might have staff having to do manual workarounds, downloading and uploading lists of members into different tools all the time.
Enter the iPaaS. It connects to your different software to ensure that everything in your ecosystem shares data freely. This way, member data is up-to-date across your suite of tools. It eliminates the need for manual intervention.
How do integration platforms work?
An integration platform connects one application to other applications. It pushes and pulls data from each system, sharing it across all your tools. Doing so ensures that all applications have the most up-to-date data.
Most often, it accomplishes this through APIs. In simple terms, an API is an interface or method for two pieces of software to communicate. Depending on the criteria, one platform could request a single field value or a list of records via the API. Alternatively, it could ask to update or delete values in a different system.
If this all sounds a little complex, that’s ok. Most iPaaS systems will make managing this easy for you. You don’t need to understand the technical aspects.
All you need to understand is that the integration platform components include the following:
- Two or more connected systems will share data back and forth
- A set of rules will determine how data is shared
- The entire process is automated, eliminating any manual workarounds
How does Wicket use integration platforms?
We love integration platforms. We believe you should be free to choose best-in-class software without the drawback of data silos. Integration platforms are central to that ethos.
Often our customers seek a solution that allows them to choose any software. Still, they may not have the technical expertise to do integrations themselves. That’s where we come in. We facilitate integrations on behalf of our customers.
Sometimes we need to integrate tightly with a platform. This decision might be due to the integration’s complexity, importance or popularity. In these cases, we integrate directly with those platforms. Other times, we might simply pass one or two pieces of data to another system. In these cases, we might use an iPaaS ourselves. In other cases, an iPaaS might help our professional services team facilitate some custom logic in an integration that a customer needs.
What is an enterprise integration platform?
Enterprise Integration Platform as a Service (EIPaaS) describes tools that support enterprise-grade integration. Integration platform software often connects two systems, transforming data so both systems can communicate. The enterprise integration platform is usually integrating cloud-based systems.
What is a hybrid integration platform?
On the other hand, hybrid platforms connect varying systems, including applications, data files, and on-premises systems. Organizations that haven’t yet gone through a complete digital transformation often use these. It’s for those who haven’t yet shifted to the cloud. Of course, they are inherently more complex because this approach deals with such variation.
Why use an integration platform?
An integration platform is integral to a modern digital ecosystem. By connecting all the tools in your ecosystem, it eliminates data silos. When data flows between systems, you don’t need to worry about manual updates or having out-of-date data.
On top of that, it can reduce revenue loss. A 2021 study by Cleo found that over 66% of businesses surveyed lost over $500,000 due to a lack of integration between applications. These losses are due to delays in data transmission. While this is from a business context, similar issues can arise for associations. When staff manually update data, it can significantly impact operational costs.
Associations Now have a great blog post on why integration platforms are essential. You should check it out if you want to dive deeper.
How can implementing an integration platform help your organization?
Having an integration platform can transform your organization. If you’re using multiple disconnected applications, you’re probably doing extra work. You might be downloading and uploading data into different applications all the time. Or, perhaps manually updating multiple systems when a member changes their address.
You can automate all of these manual processes with an integration platform. These platforms will connect all of your software. Based on the rules and triggers you set, the platform will facilitate data flow between these systems. Now you’ll have the same up-to-date member data in each platform.
The often overlooked benefit of this approach is security. Manually updating lists or downloading and uploading lists is risky. Data leaks happen more easily when people share data back and forth manually. A data breach is unlikely to occur when highly secure integration platforms share data.
How do you build an integration platform into your ecosystem?
When shifting from the all-in-one to an ecosystem approach, an integration platform is necessary.
To build one into your ecosystem, you first must consider your team’s technical capabilities. Some tools are DIY, and others are hands-off. If you go with the DIY approach, you need to have the technical expertise to do so.
The next consideration is the software in your ecosystem. Will you be incorporating any association-specific or legacy platforms? If you do, this will limit the kinds of integration platforms that will work for you. Most integration platforms appeal to a broader business community. They may not have connections to the association-specific software you’re using.
Taking the time to understand these two factors will help you know what options are open to you. Next, we’ll dive into what platforms you can consider based on your needs.
What’s the best integration platform?
There isn’t one integration platform that we’d pinpoint as the best. Because each system caters to vastly different needs, the best platform depends entirely on your goals as an organization. Let’s look at some integration platform examples to illustrate our point.
If your needs are simple, you might be able to DIY.
Zapier is the DIY platform. It doesn’t require any coding to use. Using their interface, you can set up triggers and actions to connect all of your software. There is one drawback. Zapier targets the business world. Much of the association-specific software isn’t on Zapier.
Tray.io is another excellent platform we often use. It also uses triggers and actions to create workflows between tools. While still user-friendly, it is slightly more technical than Zapier. We at Wicket use this platform all the time.
Have a complex setup? Try an integration service targeted at association software.
ShuffleExchange is an excellent option for associations. They focus on non-profits and member-based organizations. Because of this, they have experience integrating some of the legacy software still popular in the industry. They offer a full range of services, so they’ll do all the connecting for you. We work with ShuffleExchange all the time.
You can rely on your Member Data Platform to do it for you.
Wicket is a great, hands-off option. While Wicket isn’t an iPaaS, we still connect all the necessary platforms on behalf of our customers. In this way, Wicket acts as a central connection between systems. When you log in to Wicket, you can see what emails a member opened in MailChimp or what discussions they’ve replied to in Higher Logic. You can also see what purchases they’ve made on your WooCommerce site. Behind the scenes, we’ve either custom-built the integration or worked with a partner like ShuffleExchange or Tray.io.
What’s the best open-source integration platform?
In some ways, several of the platforms mentioned above are open-source. They make their source code visible so users can customize it to their needs. When people look for open-source platforms, they’re often looking for a free tool. None of these options are that. While Zapier does have a free level, that level has many limitations.
There are several completely open-source iPaaS projects on Github. Volunteers create these free projects with completely open-source code. The sticking point is that you’ll need a great deal of technical expertise to use these options. Developers created these projects for other developers. You’d need to have the proper technical support before exploring these projects.
What are the best practices for setting up your integration platform?
Regardless of the integration platform architecture, the steps to success are always the same when planning a new integration. Here’s how we’d break those steps down:
Your plan should start with specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely (SMART) goals. Taking a step back to identify goals will bring focus and clarity to this project. You should think about the project’s scope, schedule and cost first. Here’s a pro tip: always anticipate delays. Unexpected problems can arise, so give yourself wiggle room.
Design your integration with your business processes in mind. Think about how staff work today and what ways this integration would simplify their existing processes. Once you fully understand these processes, you can start designing. You can start thinking about what data must, should, and could flow back and forth and what should trigger that flow.
Communicate your early designs with your team. It’s much easier to get input before you build the integration vs after. Make sure everyone understands the goals and technical limitations. Establish an understanding of how these changes will impact existing workflows.
Don’t try to do it all right away. Start with a small goal for your integration and iterate on it. Often, you don’t need all the functionality you think you will. An integration that does more than you need can be overly complex and difficult to use.
Today, more than ever, organizations are shifting to a digital ecosystem approach. They’re casting the all-in-one solution aside in favour of best-in-breed. An integration platform is an essential tool in this setup. It ensures your data flows freely and securely between systems. Whether you DIY or choose a solution like Wicket that does it for you, you have options.
Are you interested in learning more about digital ecosystems? Check out our blog post on how you can gain value from an ecosystem approach.